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Festival of San Fermín

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Festival of San Fermin
NicknameSanfermín, Sanfermines, Sanferminak
Begins7 July; 12:00 (CEST)
Ends15 July; 00:00 (CEST)
Location(s)Pamplona, Navarre, Spain
ActivityRunning of the bulls
Patron(s)Saint Fermin
Fiesta of International Tourist Interest

The festival of San Fermín is a week-long, traditional celebration held annually in the city of Pamplona, Navarre, Spain. The celebrations start at noon on 6 July and continue until midnight on 14 July. A firework (chupinazo) starts the celebrations and the popular song Pobre de mí [es] is sung at the end.

The most known event of the festival is the running of the bulls, which begins at 8 am each day on 7–14 July, but the festival involves many other traditional and folkloric events. It is known locally as Sanfermines in Spanish and Sanferminak in Basque and is held in honour of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre.



Saint Fermín

Facade of the City Council of Pamplona decked out for the San Fermín festivities

Fermín is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century who was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptised by Saturninus (in Navarre, also known as Saint Cernin) at the spot now known as the "Small Well of Saint Cernin".[a][1] Fermín returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later preaching voyage, Fermín was dragged to death; and is now considered a martyr in the Catholic Church.[1] It is believed that he died on September 25, AD 303. There is no written record of veneration of the Saint in Pamplona until the 12th century.[1]

The celebration of the festival has its origins in the combination of two different medieval events.[2] Commercial secular fairs were held at the beginning of the summer. As cattle merchants came into town with their animals, eventually bullfighting came to be organised as a part of the tradition.[2] Specifically, they were first documented in the 14th century. On the other hand, religious ceremonies honouring the saint were held on October 10.[2] However, in 1591, they were transferred to July 7 to take place at the same time as the fair, when Pamplona's weather was better.[2] This is considered to be the beginning of the Sanfermines.

During medieval times, the acts included an opening speech, musicians, tournaments, theatre, bullfights, dances or fireworks.[2] Bullrunning appears in 17th and 18th century, together with the presence of foreigners and the first concerns about excessive drinking and dissolute behaviour during the event.[2] Finally, the Parade of Giants[b] was created in the mid-19th century.[2] The first official bullring was constructed in 1844.[citation needed]

Modern times

Monument to Hemingway outside the bullring in Pamplona

The fame and the number of foreign visitors it receives every year are related to the description in Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises[c] and the reports he made as a journalist.[3] He first visited in 1923 and returned many times until 1959.[3]

Televisión Española (TVE) broadcasts the event live nationwide and internationally on television, its official national radio broadcasters are Radio Nacional and Cadena SER.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the festival to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021.[4][5]

One-day events



Chupinazo sets off

The opening of the festival is marked by setting off the firework chupinazo (or txupinazo in Basque). The rocket was launched at 12:00 noon on 6 July from a city hall balcony, with people celebrating the act in the city hall square and other locations in Pamplona.[6] The chupinazo marked the beginning of the fiesta since 1941. The person who sets it off is decided by the city mayor.[7]

Since 1979, the tradition has been that each year after city elections, the chupinazo is set off by a person from the different city council political groups, starting with the mayor and then political groups ordered by number of representatives.[8] There have been exceptions to this tradition with some non-politicians being in charge of the act when they had performed significant achievements during the year. Examples of these exceptions were a player of the local football team or the president of the "giants and big-heads" group on its 150th years anniversary.[9][10] Following the rocket firing, a pipe band playing percussion and txistus played amongst the crowds and then marched off the main square.



The Riau-Riau was a mass activity held on 6 July. The members of the city council parade from the City Hall to a nearby chapel dedicated to Saint Fermín with participants dancing to the Astrain Waltz along the way.[11] The ritual was introduced in 1911 by Ignacio Baleztena Ascárate.[11] The procession was removed from the festival calendar in 1992 for the sake of public order, as political activists used the "Riau-Riau" to promote clashes with authorities.

Protesting youths had sometimes blocked the way, and it often took up to five hours for the city councilors to walk the 500 meters to the Saint Fermin chapel. Nevertheless, in recent years, it has been held unofficially without the participation of the members of the city council. In 1996 and 2012, there were two failed attempts to restore the original act with the participation of the city council, both of which were cancelled due to violent clashes with some participants.[12]

Saint Fermín procession

Hornacina of the Saint, located on the slope of Santo Domingo

The key day of the festival is July 7 when people accompany the 15th-century statue of Saint Fermin through the old part of Pamplona. The statue is accompanied by dancers and street entertainers, as well as different political and religious authorities including the city mayor and the Bishop of Pamplona, who leads High Mass before the event.[13]

During procession, a Jota (an ancient traditional dance) is performed for the saint, a rose is offered in the Saint Fermin well, and the gigantes (enormous wood-framed and papier-mâché puppet figures managed from inside) dance while the cathedral bell named María (Mary) peals.[14] Mass is held in the city cathedral, as well as in city parishes.



El Struendo ("The Roar"[d]) is a single-day event with more than 50 years of tradition. It has been purposely left outside the official program and each year is celebrated on a different day, usually a weekday so as to keep the crowds manageable. People gather at 23:59 at the City Hall and make as much noise as possible for several hours with drums, cymbals, bowls, whistles, pans, or other objects.[11][15]

Pobre de mí


After nine days of partying, the people of Pamplona meet in the City Hall Plaza at midnight on July 14, singing the traditional notes of the Pobre de mí ('Poor Me'). The city mayor then closes the festival with participants lighting a candle and removing their red handkerchiefs as the song is played by the local band, followed by a fireworks display at the city hall. This closing ceremony tradition, which marks the official close of the festivities, started out in the 1920s.[11]

Daily events


Running of the bulls

Running of the bulls on Estafeta Street

The running of the bulls (Spanish: encierro or los toros de san Fermin[e]) involves hundreds of people running in front of six bulls and another six steers down an 825-metre (2,707-foot) stretch of narrow streets of a section of Pamplona. The run ends in Pamplona's bullring. Bullruns are held between 7 and 14 July and a different "encaste" (sub-breed) of bull appears on each day of the festival.[citation needed]

Confinement as it passes through the town hall square

The event begins at 08:00, when the first firecracker is lit to announce the release of the bulls from their corral. Before the year 1924, it started at 6 and at 7 between 1924 and 1974.[11] Runners gather earlier at the beginning of the itinerary to ask for the protection of the Saint by singing a chant three times before a small statue of San Fermín which has been placed in a raised niche in a wall, in both Spanish and Basque:

A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro, dándonos su bendición.
Entzun, arren, San Fermin zu zaitugu patroi, zuzendu gure oinak entzierro hontan otoi.

Both of which mean:

To San Fermin, we ask to be our patron saint and to guide us in the running of the bulls, giving us his blessing.[16]

Viva San Fermin and Gora San Fermin are shouted following the chant. While the chant since 1962 has been sung in Spanish, beginning in 2009, a Basque translation is sung after it.

A second cracker signals that the last bull has left the corral. There are six fighting bulls, accompanied by six oxen (often white- and brown-coloured) that guide them to the "plaza", followed by three more not-fighting oxen. There are also some shepherds guiding the bulls. Once all of the bulls have entered the arena, a third rocket is released while a fourth firecracker indicates that the bulls are in their bullpens and the run has concluded.[citation needed]

Since 1925, 15 people have been killed during the event[17]—most recently on 10 July 2009[18]—and every year, between 200 and 300 people are injured during the run, although most injuries are non-lethal contusions due to falls.[19]

Giants and big-heads parade

Pamplona's Giants and big-heads parade. From back to front and left to right, there are American, Asian, African, and European pairs of giants (last row), the six kilikis and the 5 big-heads (second row), the zaldikos, and members of the parade who carry the figures (front row).

Every day, during the morning, there is a parade of gigantes y cabezudos (English: "giants and big-heads"), with the giant figures being more than 150 years old. The eight giant figures were built by Tadeo Amorena, a painter from Pamplona, in 1860, and represent four pairs of kings and queens of four different races and places (Europe, Asia, America, and Africa). Their height is around 4 meters (13 ft) each, and they are carried by a dancer inside a wooden structure.

During the parade, giants dance to the rhythm of traditional music. The remaining 17 figures include 6 kilikis, 5 big-heads, and 6 zaldikos, built at different times between 1860 and 1941. Kilikis and big-heads are caricaturesque but human-like figures that are carried as helmets. Big-heads masks are up to 1 meter (3.3 ft) tall, and kilikis are slightly smaller. While big-heads precede the giants and wave their hands at spectators, kilikis run after children, hitting them with a foam truncheon. Zaldikos, figures representing horses with their riders, also run after children with a truncheon.[20][21]

Traditional sports

Pamplona bullring

There are exhibitions and competitions of Basque rural sports every morning in the Plaza de los Fueros, a square close to the city citadel, although they were formerly held in the bullring.[22] Sports include stone lifting, wood cutting, or hay bale lifting.[22] On the other hand, the Jai alai tournament of Sanfermin is a prestigious competition for this variety of basque pelota. It is held in one of the courts of the city.[22] Betting is common during these events.[22]



Every afternoon from July 7 to 14, there is a bullfight in which the 6 bulls that have been driven to the bullring during the bullrunning of that day are killed. It begins at 18:00.[23] In addition, the fifth bullfight with younger bulls and not fully trained bullfighters is performed while the sixth features bullfighters on horses (Spanish: rejoneo).[23]

The circuit has only changed slightly since 1852, as the former bullring was located close to the present one. Before that date, the bullrunning ended in the "castle plaza".[11] While the origin of this tradition was the necessity to move the bulls from outside the city to the bullring for the bullfight, it is not clear when citizens began to run in front of them. There are written records from 1787 indicating that the tradition was already well established with no memory of its beginning.[11] The tradition of singing for protection from the saint dates back to 1962.[11]



Every night at 23:00, a fireworks spectacle is held at the citadel park. Fireworks spectacles have been known to occur in Sanfermin as far back as 1595. From 2000 to 2019 and since 2022, an international fireworks contest has been held.[24] Participants watch them while seated on the grass around the citadel.[24]

See also



  1. ^ In Spanish: Pocico de San Cernin
  2. ^ In Spanish: Comparsa de Gigantes y Cabezudos.
  3. ^ Also known as Fiesta, which in Spanish means party or carnival
  4. ^ In Spanish the correct spelling would be "Estruendo", however the name of the act is intentionally misspelled.
  5. ^ from the verb encerrar, to lock/shut up


  1. ^ a b c "History of... The saint-Saint San Fermin festival- Sanfermines-tourist information of Navarre". Government of Navarre. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "History of... The fiesta of San Fermín Saint San Fermin festival- Sanfermines-tourist information on Navarre". Government of Navarre. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  3. ^ a b "History of... Ernest Hemingway-Saint San Fermin festival- Sanfermines-tourist information on Navarre". Navarre tourist office. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  4. ^ "Suspendidos los Sanfermines de 2020". Navarra.com (in Spanish). 21 April 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  5. ^ "Fiestas de San Fermín se aplazan por segundo año consecutivo debido a la pandemia" (in Spanish). CNN en Español. 6 July 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  6. ^ "The Sanfermines: the "chupinazo"". navarra.com. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  7. ^ "History of the txupinazo to 1980". Kukuxumuxu S.L. Archived from the original on 12 July 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  8. ^ "History of the txupinazo from 1979". Kukuxumuxu S.L. Archived from the original on 12 July 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  9. ^ "A "Sporty" exception to the politicians". Kukuxumuxu S.L. Archived from the original on 12 July 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  10. ^ A. Ollo (6 July 2010). "Entrevista a Jose Mari Ganuza". Diario de Navarra. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h M. Arrizabalaga (10 July 2012). "Así nacieron los sanfermines". ABC (in Spanish).
  12. ^ Miren Imaz (7 July 2012). "El Riau-Riau tendrá que esperar". Diario Vasco. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  13. ^ "Chapel of Saint Fermin-tourist information of Navarre". Government of Navarre. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  14. ^ "San Fermín 2012 – La Procesión" (in Spanish). Council of Pamplona. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  15. ^ "The "Struendo"". Kukuxumuxu S.L. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  16. ^ BullBalcony (1 May 2020). "The San Fermín Bull Run Song".
  17. ^ Michelle Tsai (12 July 2007). "I Was Gored by a Bull. Is my life in danger?". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013.
  18. ^ Giles Tremlett (10 July 2009). "Bull kills man at Pamplona festival". The Guardian.
  19. ^ "The Bull Run". Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (Council of Pamplona). Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  20. ^ Juan José Martirena Ruíz (2001). Historias del viejo Pamplona. Pamplona: Ayuntamiento de Pamplona. ISBN 84-89590-90-7.
  21. ^ Unai Lako, Aitor Calleja (2010). Gigantes de Navarra. Pamplona: EGN. ISBN 978-84-937633-1-2.
  22. ^ a b c d "Rural Sports". Sanfermines.net. Asociación de empresarios de hostelería de Navarra (Businessmen association of hotel and bar's industry of Navarre). Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  23. ^ a b "The bulls... The corrida-San Fermin". Oficina de turismo de Navarra (Navarre tourist office). Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  24. ^ a b "Fireworks". Sanfermines.net. Asociación de empresarios de hostelería de Navarra (Businessmen association of hotel and bar's industry of Navarre). Retrieved 26 September 2010.